Twenty four actors from six cities around the world have been working remotely via the internet since April with Melbourne actor/director, Sally McLean, rehearsing and filming the latest season of her internationally award-winning web series, Shakespeare Republic.
Shakespeare Republic: #AllTheWebsAStage (The Lockdown Chronicles) premiered online with the release of the first three episodes on Friday, August 7.
The Shakespeare Republic series began in 2015 and episodes have featured many of Australia’s favourite actors including Nadine Garner, Michala Banas, Alan Fletcher, Scott Major and Christopher Kirby.
The first two seasons of Shakespeare Republic have been officially selected and screened at over 80 international film festivals and won over 30 awards from over 70 nominations to date including Best Director, Best Web Series and Best Ensemble Cast in numerous festivals and industry awards around the world. A highlight was being the recipient of the prestigious CINE Golden Eagle Award for Best Digital Series in the USA in 2017, which saw creator/director Sally McLean join the ranks of fellow CINE alumni such as Steven Spielberg (the then CINE President) Oprah Winfrey, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Jim Henson, Mike Nichols, Robert Altman, Spike Lee, Billy Crystal, Robert De Niro and Sydney Pollack, among others. Fellow award-winners that year were Christian Slater for Mr Robot, National Geographic’s MARS & Variety’s Actors On Actors. The series was also included in the official National Film & Sound Archive Collection in 2019 with an individual mention as an acquisition highlight in their 2018-2019 annual report.
This new season of the work features professional actors based in Australia, the US & UK, with credits from Broadway, the West End, The Globe Theatre in London and Shakespeare in the Park (New York), as well as roles in mainstream film & TV such as the Star Wars franchise, The Matrix trilogy, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Star Trek, Fear The Walking Dead, Animal Kingdom, The Romanoffs, Criminal Minds, Seinfeld, Carnivale, Coronation Street, Doctors, Romper Stomper, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, American Horror Story, Charlotte’s Web, The Leftovers and Twin Peaks, among many others – and was created in response to the sudden closure of the entertainment industry around the world in March this year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“So many of us in the industry were suddenly left without work, and to a large degree, purpose,” says McLean. “
You build your life around the work and so when it suddenly stops, you don’t know where to put yourself.
“I had another series about to go into pre-production and a theatre production ready to go into a round of workshop performances, both of which had to be shelved. Add to that the uncertainty of when work might be able to start up again, and the financial pressures you’re suddenly facing due to loss of income, and the outlook becomes somewhat grim. So creating this stand-alone season of Shakespeare Republic has really served as a way to keep connected and keep exploring who we are now, from a global perspective, using pieces written by someone who experienced his own fair share of lockdowns due to plague – making the text even more relevant.”
This new stand-alone season of the series places Shakespeare’s characters firmly in the middle of the 2020 pandemic, exploring a range of human experiences that currently connect us despite our physical separation – all using Shakespeare’s original text.
“This was a chance to go beyond Australia’s shores and work with actors that I might not normally have had the opportunity to collaborate with before – and it’s been an extraordinary process, for which I am so grateful,” says McLean.
Over 100 actors applied to be in the new season, from Europe, UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia and the entire process has been done remotely via the internet – from the initial audition phase to rehearsals, to filming, to post-production. McLean also wrote a 30 page technical bible for the actors, so they had easy reference how-to guides for camera set up, lighting, sound, production design, etc.
Rehearsals were fairly straightforward using the Zoom platform, but due to McLean also being her own crew, filming involved her not just directing her actors, but also helping them problem-solve on the shoot day when something went technically wrong with their phone camera – or the next-door neighbour decided to use their leaf blower, causing sound issues.
“I would be on Zoom on their laptop or computer, directing them in real-time from Melbourne,” says McLean, “while they recorded their performances on their phones across town or in London, Los Angeles, Glasgow or wherever they were based. Some actors were advantageously in lockdown with filmmakers, but the majority were their own crew, as was I, which presented a new set of challenges we wouldn’t normally face when filming. It was a huge learning curve, but they embraced it all brilliantly.”
It’s not something that McLean would want to continue to do indefinitely, however, “working this way is totally doable, but due to us having a very limited budget it’s meant that I’ve been working upwards of 80 hour weeks since April with the adapting, rehearsing, filming, editing, producing and all the other jobs I’ve taken on to save costs. My two co-producers, Billy Smedley and Christopher Kirby have provided such brilliant assistance, and I have my fabulous post-production team, but it isn’t an ideal working set up overall. I see people sharing their latest baking creation on social media and feel a sudden surge of FOMO because I forget to eat some days, let alone have time to actually be in the kitchen long enough to bake something! That said, if we had a budget, I’d definitely consider filming in this way again. I feel an incredible bond with all the actors and my production team, despite none of us ever being physically in the same room together. We really have been in the trenches as a team through this and I couldn’t ask for better colleagues to work alongside while creating a series during a pandemic.”
Shakespeare Republic: #AllTheWebsAStage (The Lockdown Chronicles) premiered with the first three episodes on Friday August 7 and can be seen on their Facebook page.